"He had a budget this time and it sounds like it. I loved the last album, but this isn't something you could have recorded in your bedroom." -Matthew Johnson, Fat Possum
Trevor Powers makes music so intensely personal that listening to it can feel like eavesdropping. Recording as Youth Lagoon--whose second album, "Wondrous Bughouse," is due March 5 on Fat Possum--he first made contact with the wider world in 2011 through "July," an achingly dreamy aural postcard on which he sounds as if he's singing from the bottom of a well. "July" and follow-up single "Cannons" earned Powers a passionate, young-skewing following online. But two years later, he wasn't sure whether people would still be able to connect to his music.
"I always make music for myself, for my own reasons," Powers says. "And because of that, I tend to get lost in my own world. I never know what other people are going to think of it."
His apprehension turned out to be unwarranted. In January, Powers put out a new song called "DropÂla," which, to the amazement of both himself and many observers, propelled his band name to the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in the United States.
"I was excited and pleasantly surprised that people responded well to it," he says. "Not everyone, but most people."
Like most of the other songs on "Wondrous Bughouse," "Dropla" takes its inspiration from "the places my mind takes me when I'm alone," Powers says. The song is about reconciling with the idea of death--lifting the veil of blissful ignorance to which most people cling when it comes to their own inevitable fate.
"Toward the beginning of the writing process for this record, this fear of mortality started overtaking my mind," he says. "I was thinking about the fact that everyone knows that they won't live forever, but you never really swallow that idea."
"The Year of Hibernation," Powers' 2011 debut album, was recorded in his native Boise, Idaho, with the help of a friend who offered up his home for use as a makeshift studio. This time around, though, Powers journeyed further out of his comfort zone, traveling to Atlanta to record with producer Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Cee Lo Green, Diddy).
"He's just a great mind to bounce ideas off of," Powers says.
Allen's studio gave Powers access to new instruments, including obscure guitars and out-of-circulation synthesizers that he could have only dreamed of in Boise. The new album reflects this new arsenal, with synths that crackle and walls of sound that would make Phil Spector proud.
"He had a budget this time and it sounds like it," Fat Possum founder Matthew Johnson says. "I loved the last album, but this is a wonderful step forward for him. It's not something you could have recorded in your bedroom."
Another immediately noticeable shift is in Powers' voice. Where on "The Year of Hibernation" his vocals were often hushed and warbled, this time they're front and center, leaving the lyrics suddenly exposed.
"It's something I struggled with," Powers says. "I chose to make the vocals more present because it made things come to life in a way."
In support of "Wondrous Bughouse," Johnson says the label's shooting a music video for "Dropla" and pursuing select commercial synchs. (Previous companies that have licensed Youth Lagoon songs in ads include Allstate and Walgreens.) Meanwhile, Powers will begin a nationwide tour Feb. 25 in Spokane, Wash.; play Sasquatch Festival in May; and open for the National at Brooklyn's Barclays Center on June 5. After that? Home to Idaho.
"I've realized that as long as I can travel all over the world with my music, it doesn't really matter where home base is," he says. "Boise is kind of like my escape. It's my own little paradise."